Aidan Smith's TV round-up: Outlander, The A Word, Hollywood, State of Happiness

You know the feeling when you turn up at a party and you’ve got the date wrong? Not by a week, though, but more like 277 years? This was how I felt not having seen a single frame of Outlander before the start of season four.

Aidan discovers early Outlander on lockdown TV

Until now More 4’s time-travelling drama which began with the Jacobite Rising has been Scotland-based but, with a shift to North Carolina, I guess I’ve missed all the Highland shenanigans which have done wonders for our tourist industry, or did when we were still allowed visitors and the show’s nutter-fans were able to trample over ancient sites collecting sheep droppings for souvenirs.

Disorientated, I searched for a familiar face and was glad to find one in James Kirk, the numpty beat polisman in Scot Squad, but right away he was dragged to the gallows for the crime of stealing £6 10s.

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We’re reached 1767 - still hard times. The “kiltie times” Burnistoun called them in Outrager, their Outlander spoof. It was difficult to get that send-up out of my head, and to stop calling the hero Jamie McShagger. But, crikey, the real Jamie has a fabulous set of pecs, doesn’t he? Surely they have their own Twitter account. And surely a TV exec somewhere is dreaming up a chest-bump title bout with Poldark.

One of my favourite dramas, The A Word (BBC1), returned with young Joe, who’s autistic, still looking like he’s the most sorted member of the family while life in the gloriously drookit Lake District continues to batter everyone else.

A house fire, teenage pregnancy and Ralph, who has Down’s syndrome, announcing he’s getting married made for a hectic first episode as Joe’s parents, Paul and Alison - stress bunnies at the best of times - faced up to what seem like the worst, but in the midst of their break-up are continuing to do their absolute best to protect their son.

In the rush for diversity some dramas feel like their “issues” have been clumsily battened onto the sides; not this one. It’s sad, funny and truthful and if there’s going to be a more heartwarming scene than the patriarch, Maurice, taking Ralph down the pub for a man-to-man chat then I want to see it. Played with Gore-tex-straining gusto by Christopher Eccleston, Maurice reminds me of Daddy Pig, father of Peppa, which tells you where I must get my cultural references these days, but really, there’s no higher praise.

Meanwhile Joe copes, at least so far. “There. Here. Here. There,” he chirruped as he’s shuffled between two homes. Always plugged in to his headphones, the boy’s got excellent taste in music and with perfect poignancy, the Stranglers turned up on the day we old punks learned that the band’s keyboardist, Dave Greenfield, had passed away.

A drama about a great army of movie extras is obviously going to need lots of faces in the crowd and maybe only Netflix right now could produce Hollywood, set in Tinseltown’s golden age and showing what a good-looking guy from a “cow town” has gotta do to get a break into pictures.

No expense has been spared. Hundreds of wannabes descend on the studio each morning. The gates open and it’s like the parting of the Red Sea in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments as a crabbit casting director strides into the gap and makes her picks. There’s actually a DeMille epic shooting as Jack Castello, rejected again, is forced to take a job at a garage where it’s not just the cars which get serviced but also the Norma Desmonds, once-bright stars who plummeted with the arrival of the talkies.

In BBC4’s latest Norwegian drama, State of Happiness, the skies aren’t forever blue like California, more the unremitting grey of the Lakes. This is about oil-drilling in Stavanger (No wait!) where the young folks’ idea of fun is Ludo (Please, come back!).

Anna and Christian are young lovers and I suppose every couple pink-cheeked with passion for each other are going to be judged alongside Normal People’s Marianne and Connell. Anna at least suggests they stop the game one night and go to bed but Christian, a diver, is preoccupied with Shell about to pull out of his already-depressed country. There’s one last field to be explored.

The show is set in the 1960s and has some of Mad Men’s style. Maybe it’s going to be Mad Men with sardines or even Dallas in snowflake-patterned jumpers. If it turns out to be the latter I await the arrival of State of Happiness’ Pammy Ewing. Meantime Toril, 17, from the canning factory is pregnant by a US oil worker who’s just bolted. Her God-fearing parents arranged for her to marry a man called Bengt. He’s been catching fish for so long he’s started to resemble one.

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